There was showmanship, there was brilliant horsemanship, there were glitches – and they all made Freestyle day at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre today an incredible event.  The spectator stands were full with huge patches of  orange, or red, or blue  – depending upon the partisanship of the group in each area. " /> There was showmanship, there was brilliant horsemanship, there were glitches – and they all made Freestyle day at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre today an incredible event.  The spectator stands were full with huge patches of  orange, or red, or blue  – depending upon the partisanship of the group in each area. " /> There was showmanship, there was brilliant horsemanship, there were glitches – and they all made Freestyle day at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre today an incredible event.  The spectator stands were full with huge patches of  orange, or red, or blue  – depending upon the partisanship of the group in each area. ">
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Diary from Athens - Grand Prix Freestyle

Jan Mansfield

Gold Medal winners Anky van Grunsven and Salinero wave to the crowd photo ©Janus Communications

There was showmanship, there was brilliant horsemanship, there were glitches – and they all made Freestyle day at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre today an incredible event.  The spectator stands were full with huge patches of  orange, or red, or blue  – depending upon the partisanship of the group in each area.

Since you probably already know the facts about the winners and the runners-up for Dressage (Salinero/Anky van Grunsven, NED, with Gold, Rusty/Ulla Salzgeber, GER, with Silver, Beauvalais/Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, ESP, with Bronze) I’ll try to convey to you some of the essence of the day.

Of course there was going to be controversy about Debbie McDonald finishing 4th.  Also,  Ulla Salzgeber wondered aloud why there was such a disparity in the marks of one of the movements in her Grand Prix Special test  This is what the judges had to say at the press conference later about the performances they saw in the ring – most of the talking was done by the President of the Ground Jury, Mariette Withages of Belgium:

They said Anky and Salinero were truly brilliant in parts.  And today (emphasis on “today”) they were strong in the extensions, passage and transitions, and their piaffe and pirouettes were better than Rusty’s.  They said Ulla’s and Rusty’s performance were strong in the series of changes, half passes, walk, trot and canter.  They praised McDonald’s riding but said she lost marks for mistakes in her changes.

Salzgeber had some interesting things to say, alluding to the incident at last year’s World Cup where she and Rusty won the championship, only to have it taken away from them when he tested positive for a banned substance. Asked if she was disappointed she didn’t win the gold medal here, it became apparent just how much the incident affected her.  She said, “Anyone who knows me knows that after all that sh--, uh, terrible things happened, I decided not to ride anymore, and without my family behind me, I wouldn’t be here.  If you went through such a thing you lose a little bit of what you really need to fight very hard, and I’m not the fighter that I was before.  I’m very happy that my family pushed me to take part in these Olympics, because without them I wouldn’t be here.”  She said she is very happy with the medals she has.
 
When asked what she is going to do with Rusty, who is 16, she said she is going to have fun riding him at home and doing some exhibition shows.  She said she has some nice young horses, but doesn’t know to what level she will be competing.

The Olympic Individual Medal winners show their medals to photographers photo ©Janus Communications

One very happy competitor was American Robert Dover who has been riding the 15-year-old riding Kennedy since October.  The music for their freestyle was scored by Cees Slings and Victor Kerkhof, who also arrange the music for van Grunsven.  Dover said he was happy with his score of  78.475% and said it would have been higher if he hadn’t made a couple of errors in the walk. He said this Olympics, his sixth, is his best Olympics ever One of today’s highlights was the performance by Spaniard Rafael Soto and his Andalusian, Invasor.  Not rattled by having to ask for the music to be started again when it cut out, just as they were set to begin, they danced around the ring – to Flamenco music, of course – with what to my untrained eye appeared to be a mastery of the discipline.  They were rewarded with the fourth highest score in the freestyle, 79.025%, and ended in 8th place overall.  Ever the showman, Soto waved grandly to the cheering crowd as he left the ring and then tossed his top hat toward the stands where Queen Sofia of Spain was sitting, having come to see him and Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, the Bronze medallist, compete.

Spain's first individual Olympic medal in dressage was won by Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and Beauvalais who won the Bronze photo ©Janus Communications

What a pleasure and a privilege it has been to see dressage performed at this level, in these surroundings. What a pity that so many potential fans and participants are turned off the sport with the “paint drying” boredom of watching developing riders and horses as they train their way up to the piaffe of an Anky and Salinero, the impeccable style and correctness of an Ulla and Rusty, the walk of a Cindy and Proton or the canter of a Leslie and Mark.   In large part my new (still very sketchy) understanding is due to Karen Robinson who has so generously shared her extensive knowledge and insight of the discipline. My appreciation for dressage has increased with each day of competition here.

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Equestrian journalist Jan Mansfield is attending the Olympics under accreditation from Gaitpost Magazine.  Known for her ability to find interesting behind-the-scenes stories, Jan brings extensive knowledge and insight into covering the equestrian events. Jan will also be sending stories and photos from other venues in Athens as she works on her assignments with various mainstream publications. Jan can be reached at januscom@shaw.ca

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